The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Verdi’s La Traviata may be starkly modern and minimalistic, but the nearly 400 lucky attendees of its New Year’s Eve opening-night gala were fortunate to find a party that was anything but. Held, per tradition, on the Mercedes T. Bass Grand Tier in the storied Lincoln Center opera house, the event was a study in opulence—from the time the opera’s final note was sung, through the first minutes of the New Year and beyond.
Once the applause for director Willy Decker’s production came to a close and guests began trickling onto the Grand Tier for dinner, The Observer was kindly invited to sit at one of the two tables hosted by the gala’s chairman, Adrienne Arsht. “I have to show you this!” Ms. Arsht gushed, flashing her wrist. She wore a gift from the Met: a brand-new watch inscribed with “È Tardi” (the Italian for “I’m late,” and a familiar phrase to Traviata fans), its band crimson to match Ms. Arsht’s gown. This was the first year the gala organizers decided to choose a chairman, and Ms. Arsht was the first to receive the honor, so it was fitting that she should be among the first owners of the handsome watch, which is now available at the Met store. She spoke about her dedication to the Met: “I don’t sing, dance or play a musical instrument. So I do what I can. Which is give financial and emotional support.”
As we tucked into a silky chestnut soup with roasted cauliflower, julienned apple and duck confit, we managed a bit of sly people-watching. Keri-Lynn Wilson, the wife of the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, and an accomplished conductor in her own right, wore a stunning Zac Posen creation from the spring/summer line (read: not yet available to plebeians). We imagine the dress was met with approval by André Leon Talley, who sat at a long table with Traviata star Marina Poplavskaya, Mr. Gelb, Mr. Decker and choreographer Athol Farmer, who wore a single, dangling pearl earring. Mr. Talley pronounced the opera “stupendously beautiful” when The Observer managed to catch hold of one of his great gold sleeves to say hello.
With the New Year quickly approaching, the surprises kept coming. First, a spoonful of hoppin’ john, a sort of black-eyed-pea casserole traditionally consumed in the South on New Year’s Eve for good luck. “It’s Tyne Daly’s!” Ms. Arsht exclaimed. Indeed, Ms. Daly, who sat one table over, confirmed that she’d made it herself—though not, she demurred, from a family recipe. “No, it came right off the back of the black-eyed-peas bag that came from D’Agostino’s!” she laughed.
Ms. Daly said she loved the performance. “I’m a baby to opera, so I don’t have a lot of things to compare it to. I thought the spareness [of the set] gave an opportunity to hear the music. It was wonderful to hear that music again.”
Another unexpected turn of events: After all the delicious plates of herb-crusted veal and crushed potatoes had been cleaned, Ms. Arsht instructed her guests to lift up their place tags to find another name underneath. This set forth a frenzy of scurrying to find our new assigned seats—and all the couples, who had been separated for the main course, were reunited just in time to sample an array of miniature desserts, sip freely flowing Champagne, don glittery 2011 spectacles served up on silver platters and test out the noisemakers laid at each place setting.
With just a few minutes to go, Mr. Gelb made a brief speech, reassuring the guests that director Franco Zeffirelli, whose sumptuous vision of La Traviata has long been the Met’s standard, had given the new production his blessing. Mr. Gelb also thanked his guests, and he had plenty to be grateful for: All told, the evening raised $900,000. He wrapped up just in time to count down to midnight, and to a final, dazzling surprise: Those who paused for New Year’s kisses missed the beginning of a stunning fireworks show just outside the Grand Tier’s floor-to-ceiling windows. And just when we thought we’d seen the grand finale, giant confetti bombs went off indoors, raining on the awestruck revelers. What a fantastic way to ring in the year.